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Thursday, October 30th, 7:30 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: A couple of Big East programs trying to rebound from a loss clash this Thursday night, as the 24th-ranked South Florida Bulls meet up with the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium.
After opening the season with five consecutive victories, the Bulls have hit a bump in the road, losing two of their last three outings. Both losses have come in league play, including a 24-20 setback at Louisville this past weekend. At 1-2 in conference, USF isn't completely out of the mix, but it can ill-afford another loss, especially when considering West Virginia has yet to lose a league game.
As for Cincinnati, it saw its winning ways come to an end this past weekend, dropping an embarrassing 40-16 decision at Connecticut. The setback snapped the team's four-game win streak and dropped it to 5-2 overall and a level 1-1 in the Big East. On a positive note, the Bearcats now return home where they have gone a perfect 3-0 this season, including a 13-10 win over Rutgers in their lone league offering.
Cincinnati also leads the all-time series with USF, 3-2, and that takes into account victories in each of the previous two meetings.
The Bulls rely heavily on quarterback Matt Grothe to run the show and he has done so successfully once again this season. The dual-threat play caller has completed 67.1 percent of his tosses, with 14 touchdowns and just five picks, in addition to rushing or 289 yards and there more scores.
Last weekend, Grothe did his best to keep USF in the game, but his 344 passing yards and two touchdowns weren't enough in a 24-20 loss to Louisville. Grothe connected on 30-of-40 tosses in the contest, but was intercepted twice. He made some big plays in the game despite being sacked five games, and head coach Jim Leavitt was quick to point out Grothe's toughness after the contest.
"We just didn't protect enough, that's what I thought was a big problem. I thought Matt Grothe did some great things, I thought he was courageous, I thought he played extremely well, when he threw the interception he was just trying so hard to make something happen, I almost can't fault him."
Grothe had to do it all himself considered the Bulls managed just eight rushing yards, well below their season average of 171.2 ypg on the ground. Jessie Hester and Taurus Johnson were Grothe's top options in the passing game last weekend, as they combined for 14 catches and 168 receiving yards. On the season, Hester tops the club with 34 receptions, while Johnson leads the way with 386 yards and four touchdowns.
USF has been tough on the defensive side of the ball this season and that is displayed in the mere 268.2 total ypg it is giving up. The until has really excelled against the run, allowing only 81.5 ppg to opposing attacks. In last weekend's loss, the Bulls were solid, but not great, surrendering 323 total yards to Louisville. The defense yielded 111 yards on the ground, but it took Louisville 41 attempts to gain those yards.
"I think we did pretty well, but they got us about three times on the draw," said star end George Selvie of his team's efforts against the run. "Most everything they got on the draw came after they got our defensive line up the field and hit us in the middle. They did that pretty well, but overall, I think we played well against the run."
Selvie did his part in the game, as he accounted for two of the team's three sacks, to go with seven stops and four TFLs. The 2007 consensus All-American has been slowed by injury and has even missed some time, but despite that, he still leads USF with five sacks and 10 TFLs on the season.
The Bearcats set themselves back big time last weekend, as they committed a whopping six turnovers in a 40-16 loss at UConn. It was completely out of character for Cincinnati, which had committed just nine turnovers through its first six outings. Tony Pike, making his first start since breaking his non- throwing arm in late September, completed just 10-of-27 tosses for 136 yards, with one touchdown and interception in the losing effort. He only made it through the first half before being replaced by Chazz Anderson, who finished the game with just 123 yards and two interceptions on 9-of-20 pass attempts.
In three starts, five appearances this season, Pike has thrown for 770 yards and seven touchdowns, but he is listed as questionable for this game with numbness in his non-throwing hand. Anderson, who had started prior to Pike's return, has thrown for two touchdowns and run for two more in three appearances this season and could be the one under center full time this week. Mardy Gilyard was the team's top target last weekend with seven catches for 87 yards and a score, while Dominick Goodman had five receptions for 69 yards. The duo have thrived despite the consistent change at quarterback and they have combined for 82 catches, 1,117 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year.
Cincinnati's defense did all it could to slow down UConn last weekend, but the unit was often put in bad spots due to turnovers by the offense. The defense limited UConn to 349 total yards, while allowing it to complete only 18-of-42 tosses. The unit though, didn't force a single turnover and that has been an issue for the Bearcats, who have generated only nine miscues on the year. On a positive note, Cincinnati allowed UConn to convert on only 3-of-18 third chances and that has been an area of strength for this unit.
On the season, the Bearcats are holding opponents to a conversion rate of just 34 percent on third downs and that has helped compensate for some of the 331.0 total ypg they are surrendering. Mike Mickens paces the defense with 45 stops and that includes a six-tackle effort last weekend. Connor Barwin has also made his presence felt and he tops the roster with six sacks.
The Bulls have looked vulnerable of late, but they have a big advantage at the quarterback position in this one and that should help them come away with the victory this Thursday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 27, Cincinnati 17
10/29 10:27:25 ET